- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

The poison's in the dose not necessarily the poison itself. Too much of anything, in fact even innocuous-seeming water can be lethal, as the recent deaths of several young, otherwise healthy Army recruits make clear.
Between September 1999 and May 2001, according to a July 2 Reuters account, at least three recruits between the ages of 19 and 20 collapsed and ultimately died, not from dehydration, but from overhydration. Consuming too much water is dangerous because at a consumption rate of over approximately one-and-a-half quarts an hour (or more than 12 quarts a day) the body cannot excrete the excess water, which then goes to the bowels, pulls salt from the body, thereby diluting salt concentration in the tissue. This process causes a shifting of the fluids in the body, which causes a swelling of the brain. Death may result from the pressure of the skull on the swollen brain. Unfortunately, no one seems to have alerted the young recruits to the danger quite the opposite, in fact.
One unfortunate recruit guzzled an estimated 12 quarts of water over a two-to-four-hour period and became rapidly ill, succumbing to death brought about by swelling of the brain. A male Marine recruit suffered a similar fate after drinking too much water during the course of a 26-mile march carrying a rucksack full of equipment weighing about 90 pounds. He also drank great quantities of water probably imagining that he was doing exactly the right thing and subsequently slipped into a coma, suffered swelling of the brain, and eventually died.
Interestingly enough, the Army's own guidelines on water consumption recommend no more than 12 quarts per day the amount the female recruit mentioned above consumed in less than four hours. But the nostrum that drinking as much water as you can take is somehow good for you appears to have trumped common sense and the resultant tragedy has forced the Army to re-educate its troops. "The risk has always been not drinking enough," Reuters quoted Col. James W. Gardner of the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner as saying. However, "people who aren't medically attuned (then get) overzealous," he went on, explaining that well-meant ignorance about the potentially lethal effects of too much water resulted in the tragedies detailed above. There was a "constant emphasis" on drinking plenty of water, Col. Gardner said but next to nothing related about the dangers of being awash in the stuff.
And so the Army is making doubly sure that while there's enough water to go around, there isn't too much of a good thing. "You can't prevent everything bad from happening, but when it does," he told Reuters, "you have to learn from it."
Sound advice, that.


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